Crafting a German CV for success – get noticed by recruiters

While you probably have cooked up a similar document at home already, creating a German CV might be necessary if you want to score a great job in Berlin or anywhere else in Germany.

Drafting a CV is a bit like telling your life story. Different cultures expect to hear about it in different ways, Germany is no exception.

German cv guide

At the end of this guide, you will know:

  • which formatting requirements are expected from German recruiters.
  • tips to stick out of the crowd & maximize your chances of success.
  • whether you’ll need to create a German CV from scratch or simply adapt the one you have.
  • whether it’s necessary to translate into German or simply stick to English.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments as well.

Is a German CV necessary?

As you would expect, the answer to this questions depends on a few factors:

  • Which type of employer are you applying for? Traditional German companies will expect a very German format and probably not tolerate any deviation from that. You can also forget sending in your CV in English. Institutional organizations (public services, hospital, universities) will also expect a fully adapted/translated document. On the other hand, any company that needs an international team due to the nature of their activity will probably happily process your application in English. Startups & tech related companies are obvious examples.
  • Does your job require German, even a little bit? If the job ad has been posted in German and/or require German skills, this is a sure sign that your CV must be submitted in German. Consider it a test before the interview takes places.
  • What is your current search radius? If you are only aiming for bigger international cities like Berlin or Hamburg, chances are that recruiters are simply used to processing CVs in English. The pool of jobs available of English-speakers is bigger. It impacts recruiting habits. Recruiters in smaller towns might not bother.
  • Which type of job are you applying for? People with rare profiles/skills honestly don’t have to deal with a German CV. In this case, language skills matter less than work skills. This would be the case for a lot of roles in tech for example. On the other hand, if you work in sales or customer service, you might need to deal with German clients.

Can I not just translate my current CV?

It’s a fair question. You must have spent some hours tweaking your current CV. It’d be a shame to throw all that away and start from scratch.

While you don’t need to start from a blank page, a simple translation probably won’t do. Recruiters in your home country have their own habits. Even though recruiting standards are increasingly globalized, some adaption will be required to please Germany-based recruiters.

The reason for that is simple: you only have a few seconds to convince a recruiter. If something gets in the way of their scanning, it might put them off. They should feel in familiar territory.

How does German CV look like?

German CVs, otherwise known as Lebenslauf in German are traditionally defined by the following:

  • A relatively bland layout: prefer serious fonts & avoid wild layouts. The 1/3 (for dates/locations) +2/3 (for experience descriptions) column arrangement is somewhat of a standard. This can of course vary from to role to role & industry to industry. A pixel artist in the game industry won’t format their German CV the same way an accountant in the mining industry.
  • Fact-driven: German recruiters aren’t interested in titles, visions & responsibility so much. You need to demonstrate what was achieved during that experience.
  • Simple & short: No need to go into details. Simply help the recruiter understand what you did, in a compact format.
  • Maximum 2 pages, prefer 1: Unless you are super-senior or active in multiple companies at the same time, recruiters will expect you to cut the amount of information to only show what is relevant.
  • Hobbies section is almost irrelevant: Unless you have achieved something with your hobbies that present you in a favorable light for that job, no need to include them.
  • It includes a picture in passport format. You don’t need to be in a suit (unless you should wear one at work) but it needs to be professional.
  • It includes the following sections in this order: personal information, career/work experience, education, skills & certifications. We go into details in the next section of this guide.

As mentioned above, those are only guidelines of what was traditionally expected by recruiters. Times, they are changing and you should also consider which type of format is relevant for your case.

Sections & structure

We dive deeper into information that is expected on your German CV, section by section.

Contact details

This section includes the usual jazz:

  • Name, First name: some countries/culture like to include all their names. German people expect only one first name.
  • Full address.
  • Nationality and/or whether you already have a residence permit.
  • Email address & phone number with country code, if you don’t have a German phone number yet.
  • Photo
  • Optional depending on your industry: Linkedin, GitHub, Upwork, Behance user names.

Tag line – elevator pitch

You help the recruiter immensely by including a 1-2 sentence summary of what you are, what you do & what you want to achieve. It also shows that you know yourself, that you know what you want. It’s also fairly easy to customize to each application/position. Placing in one or two keywords that the recruiter might like helps.

It goes a long way to make a good first impression.

Work experience

We come to the most important part. Ruthlessly select the right experiences for the job. No need to list every little job since your babysitting years. If you have a very junior profile, it’s ok to list student jobs or similar. Each experience includes:

  • Your position/role
  • Name of the company
  • Location & dates (MM/YYYY format)
  • 1 sentence on the role/responsibility
  • In bullets points, list the most important achievements during that time. It’s best to quantify those achievements in some way (Top #1 sale person, +30% retention rate, -40% costs, delivered feature in 2 months, etc)

Again, it’s important to keep it as short as possible. Think what keywords recruiters might want to see as well, without overdoing it. Most recent experience first.

Education & training

This can be done in different ways depending on your level of experience:

  • Junior/entry level applicants can list secondary school diploma (A-levels) & the last completed/ongoing degree. If you have had good grades, you can mention it there, in a format that makes sense to a German person (from 1 to 5).
  • Senior applicants can list their degree(s) last. List first any workshops, vocational training completed since they graduated. No need to list grades; education often matters less than actual work experience.

For each item, make sure to list dates, location, university name, type of program & field.

Skills, languages & certifications

This part is fairly important for technical profiles & anyone that needs to demonstrate proficiency in some fields. This is where designers would list the softwares they know and use. This is where software developers would list the languages & frameworks they can work with. This is where lorry drivers would list their license.

This goes hand in hand with certificates you might have acquired during your career. Those certifications are often sought-after in some positions.

If the job ad requests a specific skill/knowledge, this section would be a good place to let recruiters know you have it.

Hobbies & interests

If you don’t have something interested to state in this section, it’s probably best to leave it out all together. Nobody cares if you like to listen to music & watch movies. It’s very generic.

You can use that section if you recently had extraordinary achievements like running a marathon, managing an association or organizing a fundraiser. This type of thing shows character & genuine leadership.

If you are applying for a company promoting a certain lifestyle, it can also be a good fit. E.g: Being a tennis player if you apply for a fitness app.

Typical German CV examples & templates

Here is a selection of templates in this gallery, generated by the German CV maker app CVapp.de:

As you can see, as long as you stay in line with recruiters expect, you can be pretty creative.

Things you should not include on you German CV

Some things should be left unsaid:

  • Irrelevant work experience or experiences so short they don’t matter much.
  • Marital/family status, birth date or religion: a good recruiter does not need this information to know if you are qualified or not. It’s not also legal to ask that during an interview as per the German nondiscrimination act states.
  • References: only include this on a separate document if it was requested by the recruiter.
  • Reasons why you left a previous company. This can be covered during an interview. Don’t diss on former bosses though.
  • Overstretched lies & responsibility.
  • Reasons why you applied and why you think you are a good fit. This belongs in the cover letter.

How to beat automation & application tracking systems

A lof of German companies now use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) in their hiring strategy. It’s a little piece of software that screens CVs based on keywords. The software is surfacing only the “best” applications to recruiters, based on a predetermined set of criteria matching job requirements.

It’s a way to narrow down applicants going to the interview stage. If you don’t pay attention, you might be rejected even though you are perfectly qualified. Luckily, you can beat the ATS fairly easily if you pay attention to the following:

  • Use keywords relevant for the job. Use the same language as in the job post but don’t over stuff your CV with them. Gently spread it out. That’s particularly important when same roles have different position names in different companies.
  • Make your CV machine-readable by keeping a relatively standard layout. Stick to common section titles as mentioned above (work experience, education, etc.)
  • Check spelling & avoid jargon/acronyms. ATS systems are not good at matching different variants of a keyword when they are not spelled properly. Obscure acronyms should be avoid too.
  • Use your network to override robots. If your network allows you to use an insider to push your CV on top of a pile, that should not be overlooked.

Relevant German vocabulary

  • Education: Ausbildung
  • Work experience: Berufserfahrung
  • Skills: Kenntnisse
  • Hobbies & interests: Hobbys & Interessen
  • Certificates: Zeugnisse
  • Position: Stelle
  • Internship: Praktikum

I hope this guide on how to write a German CV in English was useful to you. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Bastien

German CV – FAQ

How long should a German CV be?

No longer than 2 pages. Try to select the right information for the recruiter so it all fits in one page. It helps them scan your application.

Do I need a CV in German to find a job in Berlin?

You can probably find a job in Berlin without a German CV, but you would essentially miss out on a lot of opportunities. A lot of international companies in Berlin conduct their hiring process entirely in English. It also really depends on your profile and the type of job your are looking for.

What’s difference between a resume & a CV in Germany?

CV typically only lists hard facts and achievements while resumes include soft-skills and more background information on each experience. Use a cover letter to showcase these instead.

Should I mention sabbatical or time-off between jobs on my CV?

If there is a large gap in your experience (1+ year), you can choose to list into your CV, especially it was a transformative experience. You can also chose to leave it out, as it can be covered during the interview.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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